Open Letter to Cedarville Admins and Trustees

To my sisters and brothers in Christ, entrusted with the arduous task of leading and directing Cedarville University: greetings, grace, and peace.

Allow me to thank you all for your countless hours of service to this institution. I do not want to underestimate your care and concern for this place. In fact, I want to reassure you that I share your passion. Here at Cedarville I have been blessed with the opportunity of meeting, falling in love with, and marrying my wife. Even more importantly, at Cedarville I have fallen in love with the Gospel. Thanks to godly men and women here – whose vision of God, his Word, and his world I’ve been privileged to catch – my eyes have been opened to the richness, complexity, and scope of God’s redemptive mission.

I therefore raise the following concerns not as one who wants to malign Cedarville, disregard your wisdom, or perpetrate verbal violence. I raise them because I want Cedarville to contribute to God’s Kingdom to the fullest extent possible. I have invested four years of my life here as a CU Scholar, Getting Started Leader, Discipleship Leader, Student Grader, and Resident Assistant. I want future students, perhaps my own children someday, to be able to do the same. I want this University to thrive, inspiring true greatness for the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.

That is why certain events within the Cedarville community this past year have caused me such great concern. I say this as respectfully as possible: some of your decisions and actions seem to contradict the most precious lessons that I have learned at your institution about the Gospel.

Among other troubling things, including the harassment of those “godly men and women here – whose vision of God, his Word, and his world I’ve been privileged to catch,” I have observed the following:

As your younger brother in Christ, I am obligated to approach you peacefully. However, given the circumstances, it seems I am also obligated to approach you prophetically. Because of the biblical concept of shalom as true peace, I believe I can do both at the same time. For true peace is not the absence of conflict or strong words, but the longing of the prophets for the time and place where the image-bearers of Yahweh will be reconciled to one another, to all of creation, and to God himself. It is the relational fullness and completeness of God’s justice-based, truth-filled, and transparent Kingdom.

In the interests of shalom, then, I cry out for justice.

In the interests of shalom, I cry out for truth.

In the interests of shalom, I cry out for transparency.

For brevity’s sake, I’d like to distill my myriad concerns and frustrations into just two questions. After all, I’m just an undergraduate, and you do not owe me a thorough explanation of all the managerial minutiae behind your every move. However, you do owe me – along with current/future faculty, staff, students, and constituency – a thorough and impeccably honest explanation of Cedarville University’s Identity and Vision.

In the interests of shalom, justice, truth, and transparency, I cry out for answer to the following two questions:

  1. What is Cedarville University? 
  2. What does Cedarville University hope to become?

All of your actions and decisions mentioned above, from the harassment of my mentors and friends to the proposed cancellation of the Philosophy Major, point towards Cedarville University being and becoming a fundamentalist (euphemistically, a “conservative evangelical”) institution – silencing honest dialogue, erecting thick walls between “us” and “them,” and carving out our own niche instead of engaging the unified diversity of God’s kingdom.

After all, Dr. Ruby and Dr. Brown were two of Cedarville’s most prominent voices calling for a robust evangelicalism, for this self-proclaimed liberal arts university to embrace and embody both cultural and ideological diversity – in the hopes of becoming one of the most influential Christ-centered learning communities in the twenty-first century. 

I and many others came to Cedarville University to study, work, and teach because we find this vision extremely compelling. We find things like poorly-written White Papers, inadequately explained rejections/cancellations of valuable majors, and questionable, sudden changes in beloved personnel much less compelling.

I will give you the benefit of the doubt and not discuss at-length the many rumors and reports of shameful things like ad hoc and biased “review” panels, bullying, power plays, and gag orders. If the rumors be true, then perhaps someone much higher than I should call for your repentance, if not your resignations. Such is the high responsibility of having “For the Word of God and the Testimony of Jesus Christ” as your institutional motto.

However, I will ask you for one important thing: your honesty about where you want to take Cedarville University.

Here’s why: as the Administration and Board of Trustees, you have a certain right to decide whether or not Cedarville will be robustly evangelical or fundamentalist. We might strongly disagree about which of those two options is preferable, but at the end of the day you make that decision, not I.

However, you have no right to obfuscate or vacillate on these important matters of identity and vision. While I can’t tell you what direction to take this University, I can boldly ask that you decide and then very clearly and publicly announce your decision.

Even if I and many others disagree with your decision, we will respect you much more for your clarity. Trying to accomplish your goals behind the scenes has only resulted in confusion, damage, and pain to several individuals and families within the Cedarville community. In the wake of Dr. Pahl’s dismissal and the questionable resignations of Dr. Brown and Dr. Ruby, we need a clear statement, not a polished and vague press release. If you don’t plainly declare your position and objectives, then we will be forced to assume the worst regarding your motives.

After all, if achieving your goals involves getting rid of:

  • Michael Pahl, an outstanding biblical theologian of whom you were willing to say: “[his] orthodoxy and commitment to the gospel are not in question, nor is his commitment to Scripture’s inspiration, authority and infallibility.  He is a promising scholar and a dedicated teacher, and he will be missed by his colleagues and students.”
  • William Brown, the president and beloved face of Cedarville University for thousands of students.
  • and Carl Ruby, a man whose respect and admiration from students, faculty, and staff transcend cultural, theological, and political dispositions…a preeminent model of Christ-like service, love, patience, respect, grace, and wisdom…and a pioneer for open and honest dialogue for the sake of God’s Kingdom.

…then your goals are probably in need of revision, but they are most certainly in need of immediate clarification.

For the sake of our Messiah, Savior, Lord, and King whose crown our University bears on its seal, I appeal to you as your younger brother in the faith: publicly declare your vision for the future of Cedarville University. In the face of the growing angst, confusion, and frustration among students, alumni, faculty, staff, and constituency, explicitly state who you do and do not want working, teaching, and therefore studying at the University.

It is my prayer that, as a result of your honesty and transparency, Cedarville University might become a more peaceful and just community in the midst of God’s shalom-filled Kingdom.

For King and Kingdom,

Joshua Steele

Cedarville University Class of 2013

35 thoughts on “Open Letter to Cedarville Admins and Trustees”

  1. Like you Josh, I’m a senior here, and have to say I’m scared of what’s going on. I want to believe that Cedarville is a perfect place, or at least as perfect as a institution made of sinful man could be. I commend you for not delving into the hearsay, but merely asking questions. God is good. God is in control. He can work through this, no matter what happens. But I still wonder where Cedarville is going, and hope it can be used for as many great things in the future as it was in the past.

  2. Philosophy isn’t the only major in danger. I feel like the university is going to be making a lot of changes in the near future, and a lot of those changes probably have reasons that aren’t our business to know about. Maybe there is not enough interest in the majors in danger of being cut, and for the sake of being good stewards of the school’s finances our leaders are needing to make some difficult decisions. Also, Dr. Brown’s resignation wasn’t necessarily untimely; 10 years is a normal amount of time for a president of a college to stay in one place (Dr. Dixon and Dr. Jeremiah broke the norm by staying for more than 20 years each). We can never know the whole picture of what’s happening, and even if we ask questions in a non-judgmental way–which you did very well–we may not get answers simply because it is not our business. We just have to trust that God has everything under control and that ALL things will work together for good for each of us who love Him.

    1. Deanna, how does this make sense financially for a school that has literally spent millions on erecting new buildings and renovating dorms over the past few years? You don’t think there some long-term financial planning involved with that? That a Christian University would be so unwise as to spend money on such things if it would mean cutting a valuable educational program? And there are many majors with less interest and less marketability than Philosophy that could have been cut. degree, whose

      1. As students of this education “business” we are its customers. We paid (a lot) for our degrees, and the marketability of those degrees depends on the success and reputation of our institution. Not only that, but we are to hold our leaders and institutions accountable. It’s part of our duty as Christians to expose the deeds of darkness. Too many Christian leaders and institutions have gone under due to sin and corruption that was left unchallenged or questioned by passive Christians. Yes, trust God. Yes, pray. But we are complicit if we don’t act. And we should care about our brothers and sisters in Christ, both current/future students – what they are being/will be taught and how that may impact the way they represent Christ to the world; and the faculty who pour so much into student – their well-being. Caring is active.

      1. I think in essence Josh is asking whether CU wants to become more like Bob Jones or like Wheaton. BJ is fundemental evangelical while Wheaton is just evangelical, though still conservative of course.

  3. Josh…thank you for writing this. I look forward to hearing the response from the trustees. As an alum (’83) I wonder myself which direction the University is moving when I see how a good and Godly friend, Dr. Ruby, is treated.

  4. Given Cedarville’s long history and connection with the GARBC, how can it be anything else but a fundamentalist college? I find its break with the parent denomination for the flimsiest grounds hardly convincing that the institution has made a new departure in forging ties with American evangelicalism. Mr. Steele’s open letter is evidence of my point.

  5. Josh

    I have both attended and worked at evangelical institutions. My first instinct when the institution undertook actions I considered deplorable or disagreed with was to seek a divine interpretation for the events. While (as a good evangelical) I whole-heartedly believe that God is present in any situation I am posting because I want to provide you with some potential perspective for why Cedarville is in it’s current state. These perspectives will be decidedly “secular.”

    The controversies involving the dismissal of faculty and the elimination of departmental majors can be attributed to two large trends facing Evangelical Higher Education. These trends/topics have existed for some time, but the current economic and cultural environment is drawing them sharply into the eyes of students and alumni. I guarantee you administrators have known about these trends and grappled with them for some time.

    The two trends/topics buffeting Cedarville at the moment deal with 1) The economic realities facing evangelical higher education in light of 2009′s recession and shrinking demographics of evangelical students and 2) Academic Freedom or a debate about who ultimately holds the reigns of power when it comes institutional governance (are the board of trustees the ultimate custodians of the institutions identity? how much of a stake do faculty have in the identity and mission of the insitution?).

    On Economic Realities Facing Evangelical Schools:
    For a sobering and more in-depth examination of the challenges facing evangelical higher education please read this article: http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=24-03-029-f&fb_action_ids=658947174298&fb_action_types=og.recommends&fb_source=aggregation&fb_aggregation_id=288381481237582 . To summarize its points, the rising cost of higher education makes it challenging for institutions to provide a quality opportunity for students. This was only accentuated by the recession which devestated many family incomes and exacerbated budget cuts at christian colleges. This is also coupled with a dropping demographic which raises competition among christian schools for the top christian students. This creates a spiral that forces schools to think about cutting costs or raising tuition to compete.
    I suspect the reasons for cutting departments and majors can be attributed to this…majors and departments are expensive…you have to cut somewhere.

    For a case study in understanding the tug-of-war between faculty and the board of trustees (administrators ultimately are the hands and feet of the board…their authority comes from the Board) please read this article: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2012/11/14/cultural-change-tears-georgia-baptist-college-apart. Much like Cedarville, this Baptist institution faced a serious fight regarding what many faculty members thought the institution should embody and their rights to academic freedom, and Trustee members’ desires to reshape the mission of the institution. This particular topic/trend faces many christian institutions and is decidedly “abstract” in nature. Its also very POLITICAL…not in the Republican/Democrat sense, but in the sense of asking who truly has the power to make changes and set the institutional heading (to borrow a nautical term). It’s written into the DNA of christian institutions that the Board of Trustees are the ultimate custodians of the institution’s future. For many faculty members, and administrators at secular or catholic institutions, these powers and rights are considered downright dictatorial in their sweep and scope.

    I wish not to make a value judgement about the sweeping powers of many private protestant school Boards to make changes and dismiss faculty, but it should be acknowledged for what it is…a broad mandate for the Board to do what it feels is necessary to guide the institution in the direction they believe it needs to go. Unfortunately, in any battle over identity and mission there will be winners and losers…even more regretably, the losers can potentially be labeled as no longer belonging to the community, or the losers perceive this to be the case regardless of whether it is true or false.

    I hope that this gives you a little bit of insight into some of the broader issues that Cedarville’s Board, Faculty, and Administrators are facing. My desire is that this information will help you have meaningful conversations and dialogue.

  6. Amen Josh. This whole thing is a mess but if CU would be straight up with students, alumni, and faculty then we would all be much better off. By just giving us platitudes and vague answers that ‘they have it under control’ we may have to assume the worst. Your questions are valid and needed, CU might not owe us an explanation for everything (though I would really like one!) but if they can’t answer those questions honestly then there is a huge huge problem.

  7. As an ’02 alumni, I am deeply concerned about the rumors and reports circulating about trustee action at Cedarville. The actions of this board should be above reproach, and given these multiple concerns, that requires transparency because no board of trustees should be exempt of accountability.

  8. Very well written, and very insightful. I do not see how anyone could find fault with men who loved Jesus and loved others as Dr. Carl Ruby and Dr. William Brown have done. They have truly left legacies at Cedarville University. Dr. Ruby has served selflessly at Cedarville for almost 3 decades. He always went out of his way to reach the students who were grappling with their faith–the outsiders at Cedarville–and show them first hand the love of Jesus Christ. He loves Cedarville because of the people there–both the people he worked alongside, and the students–and will continue to do so even after he leaves on Tuesday. Do not let his legacy of love, truth, compassion, and critical thought fade when he leaves. The best testament to your love and appreciation for Dr. Ruby is to continue to treat others the way he has for all of these years and to seek truth wherever you go. We love you, Dr. Ruby!!

  9. I have often been aloof to the occurrences of the institution, as I was often vastly naive to the culture of our university upon entering.

    I used to be jealous of the forward thinking that I thought propelled the vision of a school I was leaving as William Brown–someone who I knew more like a mentor, than a president was leading.

    I’ve been confused as I’ve heard so many instances anecdotally 6 hours South to Nashville, yet after so many occurrences I can no longer be ignorant–things are not as they seem, nor as they seemed.

    Praise God for the desire and cry for justice and transparency in clear peace and proclamation of faith, not as a sword to the neck, but an outstretched hand and heart for reconciliation.

    This is the first encouraging token I’ve personally read.

    I’ve never been quite fond to discover the pursuit of similarity, or exclusivity, but rather the open of doors and sitting next to those who i do not know, albeit a brother in faith, or someone whom I see who yet is to see God’s transformation–in their own way.

  10. I’m sorry, but I have a few problems with your blog post. First, all your links to problems you have with the university are to other blogs, which don’t in any way count as reliable information. Second, the Ventriloquist is not actually funded by students, but actually by a secular far-left organization that gets free publicity with every issue that goes out. Also, it must be stated that the authors of those articles are no more objective than the people they accuse of being biased and often lash out against. Third, the White Papers are just papers that define what the university is going to stand for on some doctrinal issues, and if the university is going to say that those issues are key to the university, then it would seem expected that they expect to hire professors that adhere to those core beliefs, whether or not students agree with those beliefs. Fourth, the only reason you are linking Dr. Brown’s resignation to the rest of all this is because it comes during “all this”. There really isn’t solid evidence for anything to be said against anyone in this matter. Fifth, while Dr. Ruby’s resignation is by every means sketchy and very much shrouded in fog, we must also remember that Dr. Ruby is human, too. It could be a case of Joseph “divorcing Mary quietly.” While it may not seem likely, we cannot make accusations against a university if we don’t know all the information. Lastly, the whole Philosophy major protest is really not going to be an argument that will be won. 0.25% of the student population was taking advantage of this major, making it irrelevant to the university. A minor and the philosophy classes will still be offered, so it’s not as if the university is against critical thought, it’s just saying it’s trying to save money. And that makes sense, considering that the new Pharmacy program is expensive, and hasn’t been a huge explosion of incoming students. The university is not sitting on a golden egg, and we should expect for them to look for ways to save money, especially to keep rising tuition rates as low as possible.

    All that being said, my wish is also for transparency as well, especially in the case of Dr. Ruby. We may never get all the answers, but that’s for the Board of Trustees to decide if it is in the best interest of the university to give out that information. If they truly are at fault and are hiding information and discriminating wrongfully, their wrongs will be found out, as the Bible promises. If not, maybe Cedarville will actually be blessed through the actions that are being taken. But as people ignorant of the full situation, we can call out for clarity only, and not make accusations that have no solid proof. Innocent until proven guilty. It may not always work for the innocent and may sometimes favor the guilty, but in the end, it is for God to judge, not man.

    1. Shame on you for likening Ruby’s resignation to “Joseph divorcing Mary quietly.” That is not the slightest bit true, and you ought not slander him until you know the facts. He has done nothing wrong.

  11. Watch this video from 2008:

    — it got 20,000 views in the FIRST DAY it was hosted on cedarvillesituation.com and an additional 10,000 before it was transferred to Vimeo. You think 4,000 views of a internet letter will work when a lawsuit and that video didn’t?

  12. Thank you so much for writing this and being willing to step out and speak up. I have been troubled by many of these recent events as well, and they have left me disappointed and unsure of what’s actually going on. Through many of your posts, the posts of others and a few outside sources, I am slowly piecing things together. While it is dangerous to speculate without a lot of “concrete” evidence, it is just as much to be completely naive. It is definitely something that needs to be immersed in prayer, and I hope that clarity will come soon.

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